In the fall of 2013 five of us from St. Francis Episcopal Church, Manakin Sabot, VA attended Fresh Expressions Vision Day. I had been preaching and teaching on the changes in our culture and how the church might respond. I had also been introducing a discipleship plan following 3DMovements.
We attended the vision day so that we could begin to learn how to develop into a church that can reach those no other church is reaching. Two of our group, me and one of our leaders, enrolled in the year long MSM Richmond cohort.
From there, we developed three fresh expressions:
- The Parke– a group formed to reach those in the housing development (The Parke) next door to our church building who have not church connection at all at this time.
- The Garden– a group formed to reach the clients of the local county food bank so that they might join in with the planning and work of a garden on our church lot to provide fresh produce to the food supplied at the food bank.
- Lynmoore– a group which has already been operating for six years bringing communion to a local assisted living facility (Lynmoore assisted living). The new goal is to have worship with the residents and staff rather than provide a worship service for them.
Each of these three groups began differently and is developing differently.
In 2013 I was beginning my first year as the vicar of St. Francis, a church plant that was now 12 years old. Five of the members wanted to have a mid-week Bible study group, so I began to meet with them.
They had already done a great deal of Bible study through the Community Bible Study ministry in Richmond. This made the discussions very lively and interesting. I suggested we alternate weeks between Bible study and a leadership huddle. They like the idea so we began a huddle for leadership and discipleship development using the approach of 3dmovements.
As the spring came along we began to pray about what kind of outreach our group could do. We began prayer walking the neighborhood in which one of our neighbors lived. We debriefed after each walk taking note of what it seemed God was doing.
After our third prayer walk, one of the well-known, well-liked neighbors died. We found the person who sends emails to the entire neighborhood and invited everyone in the neighborhood to join in our next prayer walk which would be in honor of their friend and neighbor who had passed away. About 25 people from the neighborhood joined us. Others who were not able to walk that day but were home stood at their doors and watched us go by.
We met a lot more people that day. Later that month some of were invited to the montly cocktail party in the neighborhood and met more people. This fall our leaders are meeting once a month for dinner, usually hot dogs, prayer for the neighbors, and planning next steps to engage with them and serve them. We meet a second time a month for a leadership huddle.
One of our members was taking in the teaching and discussions we were having about joining in with what God is already doing. On Sunday mornings, she would look out the window of our building onto the large field. She began to sense that God wanted here to do something.
This went on for a few weeks when she came to me. She said she felt that God wanted here to start a garden in the church’s field which would grow fresh produce for the local food bank. She also felt strongly that she could teach others about gardening and hoped to get to know the clients of the food bank well enough to invite them in on the planning and work of the garden.
During the fall ground for the garden was tilled and prepared. This winter the garden team will begin to meet for prayer, engaging with those who are at the food bank, and inviting others from the surrounding community onto the team.
For six years, one of our families has been taking communion to a nearby assisted living center. They had seen it as an opportunity to do something for the residents. As we began sharing about new forms of church they began to see some potential to see this group as a church. They are now seeking additional people for the team and looking for ways to begin relating to the staff as well as the residents of the assisted living center.
In October, Bishop Ted Gulik was making the regular yearly bishop’s visitation. During this time of worship he commissioned these three groups. When it was time for the commissioning half of our church members stood, came to the front, and received prayer to be sent forward to join in with what God is already beginning in our community.